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The sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK), closely related to the sociology of science, considers social influences on science. Practitioners include Gaston Bachelard, David Bloor, Paul Feyerabend, Elihu M. Gerson, Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Susan Leigh Star, Anslem Strauss, Lucy Suchman, Harry Collins and others.

These thinkers (sociologists, philosophers of science, historians of science, anthropologists and computer scientists) have engaged in controversy concerning the role that social factors play in scientific development relative to rational, empirical and other factors.

Programmes and schools

David Bloor has contrasted the so-called weak programme (or 'program' — either spelling is used) which merely gives social explanations for erroneous beliefs, with what he called the strong programme, which considers sociological factors as influencing all beliefs.

The weak programme is more of a description of an approach than an organised movement. The term is applied to historians, sociologists and philosophers of science who merely cite sociological factors as being responsible for those beliefs that went wrong. Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, and (in some moods) Thomas Kuhn might be said to adhere to it.

The strong programme is particularly associated with the work of two groups: the Edinburgh School (David Bloor and his colleagues of the Science Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh), and the Bath School (Harry Collins and others formerly from the Science Studies Unit at the University of Bath). In addition discourse analysis (associated with Michael Mulkay at the University of York) and reflexivity (associated with Malcolm Ashmore at Loughborough University) are often taken to be major strands of the programme.

Sokal affair

Sociology of scientific knowledge became controversial in the 1990s after the publication of a hoax paper by Alan Sokal in the journal Social Text, under the title Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. The ensuing debate (the Sokal affair) led to SSK thinkers being accused of relativism.


SSK has received critique from the French school called Actor-network theory (ANT), which is not part of the Strong Programme, nor SSK, but belongs to the research field called Science and Technology Studies. The main theorists in the ANT-school are Michel Callon, Bruno Latour and John Law. SSK has been criticised for sociological reductionism and a human centered universe. SSK is said to rely too heavily on human actors and social rules and conventions settling scientific controversies. The ANT-school, instead, proposes that non-human actors (actants) play an integral role. For example instruments, measurement scales, laboratories and so forth have the unintentional capacities of closing a scientific controversy. This debate is widely discussed in the article "Harry Collins & Steven Yearley 1992. Epistemological Chicken. In A. Pickering (ed.), Science as Practice and Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 301-26."

See also


  • Bloor, David (1976) Knowledge and social imagery. London: Routledge.
  • Collins, H.M. (1975) The seven sexes: A study in the sociology of a phenomenon, or the replication of experiments in physics, Sociology, 9, 205-24.
  • Collins, H.M. (1985). Changing order: Replication and induction in scientific practice. London: Sage.
  • Edwards, D., Ashmore, M. & Potter, J. (1995). Death and furniture: The rhetoric, politics, and theology of bottom line arguments against relativism. History of the Human Sciences, 8, 25-49.
  • Gilbert, G. N. & Mulkay, M. (1984). Opening Pandora’s box: A sociological analysis of scientists’ discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • William Kornfeld and Carl Hewitt. "The Scientific Community Metaphor" IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, SMC-11. 1981
  • Latour, B. & Woolgar, S. (1986). Laboratory life: The construction of scientific facts. 2nd Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press. (not a SSK-book, but has a similar approach to science studies)
  • Latour, B. (1987). Science in action : how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (not a SSK-book, but has a similar approach to science studies)
  • Pickering, A. (1984) Constructing Quarks: A sociological history of particle physics. Chicago; University of Chicago Press.
  • Shapin, S. & Schaffer, S. (1985). Leviathan and the air-pump. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

For a recent sourcebook see:

  • Jasanoff, S. Markle, G. Pinch T. & Petersen, J. (Eds)(2002), Handbook of science, technology and society, Rev Ed.. London: Sage.
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